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Monthly Archives: December 2014

WOW! What a year at Venus Theatre.

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We began by launching our 4 play season. Four women playwrights all new works/premieres. The whole year was just brimming with unbelievable talent. I wouldn’t change a thing. Honestly.

It all began with a Ding.

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This was a three hander and Jayme Kilburn’s re-entry into playwrighting after getting her Master’s in Women’s Studies at NYU. Jayme is the founder of the Strand Theatre in Baltimore and it was just so great to explore her work and then have her in the house. Ding had been truncated for a short showing so this was the first time the playwright saw her script in its entirety.

Next up was Light of Night! Also a three hander, this was a sexy thriller that had us in rehearsals with honey, fruit, and vid clips of Elizabeth Smart. This cast dove directly into the darkness that Cecilia Copeland penned without hesitation.

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Light of Night made it to the final Kilroy’s nomination list on the West Coast and is now PUBLISHED by Indie Theater Now in NYC. This had premiered in NYC with soap star and NYC theatre actor Florencia Lozano. So, it was a new opportunity for us to see how the script could hold water with a completely different artistic team and vision. This rolling world premiere concept got us excited because it has the potential to truly grow new works beyond the initial polish and shine. I wanted to explore the script the Venus way and show Cecilia all of the different places it could go. So, I did. We are now sisters for life and there’s no way I’ll be able to thank that cast enough.

Over the summer we launched a Butterfly Girl Camp. For five days we met and created. The girls painted their own stage, costumed and devised their own show. We spend mornings in nature, journaling by the river. It was delightful.

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Then we read Claudia Barnett’s play, Witches Vanish at the Kennedy Center Page-To-Stage festival to gear up for participation in the 2015 Women’s Voices Festival. Claudia has developed this script at 10 different locations with developmental programming from around the world. (so many opportunities to develop the plays so few opportunities to stage them full on) She’s taken the three witches of MacBeth and combined the crisis in Jaurez and other places around the globe over time and created puppet shows of them. It’s a Grimm’s Fairy Tale meets the Bard in a Dark Feminist underworld. At our reading we unexpectedly received a standing ovation. So, we look forward to world premiering the play as our 53rd at the Venus Theatre Play Shack in Sept 2015. As ever, it’s superfun to hang out with Claudia.

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Back to the Fierce 14: Crimes of Love, Life, and the Afterlife Season.

In August we cleared the space and took down a wall. We created five playing spaces for Daria Marinelli’s, We Are Samurai. This was a promenade environmental piece. 10636959_10204530482475338_1748554089726464500_o

We staged an alter in front of the theatre, a garden behind, an apartment in the floor, turned backstage into a kitchen, and used the actual stage as the void. This was a 3 1/2 hour play that ran at 1:15 because many things happened at the same time. It required a committed ensemble. And boy did we ever get them! If anyone says this younger 20-something generation is detached or lazy, please call me and let me tell you about this cast!

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Daria developed this script at Brown University under the guidance of Eric Ehn. We flung open the doors of Venus and invited all of the elements in like we meant it. That included but was not limited to: thunderstorms, heat waves, gas leaks, callback shouts from B Street, visitors wandering down from the Meat Market, boys throwing firecrackers, a car show with a lot of bands playing Journey covers, and a strange men on a bicycle who liked to chain smoke and talk on his cell phone during scenes. I will remain in awe of this cast for as long as I live. What an incredible experience.

Then, we wrapped the year with the most sexually forbidden play of the season, Virus Attacks Heart by Shannon Murdoch. A two-hander. Incredibly intimate. Shannon Murdoch flew herself in from Australia (and apparently experienced one Thursday for several days) to see the world premiere of her work. She too had seen it truncated but never in its full glory.

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It was poetic and dangerous, forbidden and so beautiful.

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So I write to you on the last day of this incredible year with a tremendous amount of gratitude. We closed out the year by giving Carolyn Gage a Lifetime Achievement Award and celebrate Venus Theatre producing 50 women-empowering scripts.

There are no words.

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Your contributions to Venus in terms of financial donations and attendance at our plays keeps me driving this vision which has now landed us among the longest running women’s theatre’s in the world. I am determined to never stage the same play twice. I believe deeply that there is an audience who wants to go on adventures with us. So, We will keep creating.

Once again, we have provided all of this with an annual operating budget of $30,000. So now, we are challenged to keep the work thriving and to also get our people paid something that starts coming close to a living wage. Sustainability is the name of the game for us. And if we sold 15 full price tickets to every performance, we would be completely self-sustaining.

An anonymous family foundation donor gifted Venus $10,000 to kick off 2015. I cannot express to you the lightness this brings. As I sit here and stare at the stack of plays I’ve yet to read. And check my desktop for the ones already read that seem like a match for the year ahead, I can’t help but feel like the most fortunate Artistic Director in the world.

Our audition announcements, fundraising drives, and season will follow in the New Year. But, I had to pause and say THANK YOU ALL!

Somewhere in all of that amazement, 2014 also brought us a Proclamation from the Mayor and the City of Laurel declaring the month of November Venus Theatre Appreciation Month.

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In the New Year, I look forward to getting much closer to offering a living wage to qualified people that run this company, I can’t wait to put more diverse women on stage, the plays submitted are just psychadelic journeys that mashup feminism with standard styles. It’s all SO amazing. I am so full of anticipatory elation at what will become of the House That Love Built.

Mostly, I extend my deepest gratitude to every artist and every audience member that ever laid a brick in the foundation.

Thank you so much for making the dream appear.

I’ll see you in 2015 in the House That Love Built!

Shows to run March, May, Sept, Nov. Camp in the summer and a possible December Holiday special! (I’d better get back to work).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

deb.

Founder/Artistic Director

Venus Theatre

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On 12.13.14 Venus Theatre gave Carolyn Gage the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award for setting flight to the voices of women. I went in with bullet points in my head and riffed my speech about her on Saturday night. So, I’m going to do the same thing now, blog-style.

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First Laura and Amy read the 50 plays listed, then I thanked my whole board of directors and my husband who has been with me every step.
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12.13.14 9pm-ish

I want to begin by acknowledging the miracle of this moment right now. Having you all here in this room is something to behold. Having a room. Having this creative freedom and team. Before we say or do anything else, I just want to acknowledge and experience that and say, thank you.

At the beginning of the year I was crying in my coffee and miga, with my husband staring at me. I was realizing how deceptive this feeling is that we are alone. We are not. This darkness I was feeling was something I needed to shine a light on. I found myself telling Alan, I need to call my people back. It was just this kind of profound need I felt down deep. And, Alan being Alan said why don’t you?

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After producing so much and being largely ignored, I came to this point at 48 years of life. The mantra returned (not that it ever left), if it doesn’t exist, create it. And, then I thought about everyone. And I felt a deep debt of gratitude. And then, I wanted to show it by giving Carolyn a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Theatre has done three things for me.

The first thing theatre did was save my life. As a preteen I was suicidal and theatre is the the thing that kept me alive. It’s important that I’m here in Prince George’s County doing this work now because it’s where I grew up. I want students to continue to have access to theatre here (or bring it back wherever it’s been erased) and hope to play my part in making that happen. It literally saves lives. I want to bring my work to this community now.

The second thing theatre did was give me this life. I get to work with demigods called playwrights who create these worlds where every detail seeps out of them and onto the page. From this center point designers and performers and creative souls gather and go on a journey of empathy by creating the elements of worlds previously unexplored. We do this through process. I get to work with artists who are so courageous and go places in rehearsal and later performance that push them far past their comfort zones. Because of this we have these collaborative moments of extreme risk and growth. These things have brought immense joy into our lives and have facilitated my growth into a true adulthood as both an artist, a professional, and as a civilian.

Bonds have been forged.

Finally, and this was not something I ever dreamed would have happened, theatre gave me my creative family. That’s you. I have worked with close to 1,000 artists and each one has contributed to the family of Venus. You are the builders of this house.

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This brings me to my guest of honor tonight. It’s difficult to talk about Carolyn because she has become my Sister-In-Art. It feels so personal and there’s just so much to say but I don’t want to talk too much. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Just sitting on the couch and laughing out loud reliving Carolyn moments both as a producer/director, and also as a friend.

Back in 2002 I began Bad Girl Festivals. I did them every summer for three years. They consisted of 5-8 short scripts with a single cast rotating through characters, style, and form. Julianne Homokay was one of my playwrights the first year. She wanted to be here but now works on the Craig Ferguson show and is on TV time. During Bad Girls she had been a Literary Manager of a Regional house. She wanted to be sure I knew about two women playwrights. Migdalia Cruz whom she referred to as the most award-winning least-produced playwright on the planet. And Carolyn Gage. Had I heard of them? No.

225289_1067467920211_4488_nI approached Migdalia’s agent and would later produce Cigarettes and Moby Dick. And Julianne wanted me to meet her at UVA to see Carolyn Gage perform her solo show, The Second Coming of Joan of Arc. As an actor I played a character who thought she was Joan of Arc and was hooked, and I too was a solo artist. So, I was really curious about this Gage of Carolyn.

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I met Julianne at UVA and we watched this small woman on this giant stage perform for the huge room. Everyone was silent and she was so direct and brave. Julianne and others approached the front of the stage after the performance but I just stood back and took it in.

Tonight at dinner Carolyn gave me a signed copy of that play having no idea that was my first exposure to her work.

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Let me begin by talking about her artistry. Carolyn is probably the most well read person I know. I can’t think of another person who has brain-devoured so many biographies. I certainly can’t think of anyone who has resurrected so many women from the pages of dusty books on a shelf. When Carolyn writes a play the themes and subjects also effect the convention of the world that she’s creating. I don’t know another playwright who does this with so much shift in form. Worlds come to her fully with a kind of specific definition and I adore that about her artistry. Another one of my favorite things about Carolyn, besides her extreme intellect and talent, is her ridiculously entertaining levity.

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The first play we took on of hers was called, The Anastasia Trials In the Court of Women. This was a *light* romp into the Romanov’s and the Bolshevic’s and I was hooked. It was so rich. But, I wanted someone else to direct it so I could step back and be supportive-frankly, the depth of the history scared me and I needed extra eyes on it. It had a huge cast. I approached Kerri Rambow and she quickly replied that it would be her first directing project but she had JUST been researching the Bolshevics! (of course she had, welcome to the serendipity of my life).

Simply explained, Ana is a choose-your-own-ending play. The audience votes on which way the plot line goes. But, only the women. The men in the audience were not allowed to vote. And many people found this upsetting. So, I called Carolyn and told her there was this male critic who really wanted to vote and I didn’t want to piss off critics (I mean they were already having fun beating me up at that time) so, could I just please make an exception? Carolyn replied by saying, “We had to wait 85 years, they can sit it out a night!” So, that was the end of that conversation.

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A couple of plays later I found myself staging Ugly Ducklings. This was 13 women, 8 of them under the age of 16 in a 17’x17′ blackbox at 1019 7th St., NW-The Warehouse Theatre. This script was almost 20 years old when Venus finally world premiered it. The script was older than the majority of its cast.

Here’s a Deb/Carolyn story. I was in the elevator at the radio station WPFW and on my very thick old cell phone talking to Carolyn. I told her that I’d combined two of the young girls into one character because they only appeared once at the top of the second act. And she got really upset and told me that was the same as cutting off her left arm. To which I replied with growing hostility, “is it? Is it? IS IT? Because I’m at the radio station right now and I can talk about something else!”

That’s the first time I remember it happening, The Carolyn Effect

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so, my husband is a musician, and one time there was this guy so drunk at one of his shows he could hardly walk, he was flailing all over the place, then he grabbed his drink about the door frame and was perfectly balanced. It defied all laws of science. And, this is the same effect Carolyn has on me.

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The Carolyn Effect. So in this moment when I was overcome with frustration and anger and my tone was getting more and more intense because I was still young and trying to do too many things and why wasn’t everyone just cooperating with me?!? Carolyn says,

“Let’s lay down these lightening bolts we’re hurling back and forth at each other and build an alter.”

My immediate response was a calm, “Okay”. And then I realized, I didn’t even know what that meant. What does that mean? It means this. It means this stage, this room, this moment. It means this. This is the alter. So, thank you. Thank you, Carolyn for that!

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Over the years we have grown a great collaborative report with one another. We got so used to picking up the phone and just straight shooting at one another that we started doing it on a personal level. So, I just have to tell this one story because I was laughing so hard remembering it. We have this code when things get bad. The first sentence is, “talk me in off the ledge!”

I had a root canal that went terribly wrong on the left side of my face. They’d stuck me something like 38 time and I still wasn’t completely numb and they weren’t able to finish the procedure so they sent me away with a prescription. For some reason I went to Walmart. I know you’re not supposed to shop there but it was probably the cheapest option and you can only be so choosy when you’re poor and about to be in a tremendous amount of pain. So, I drop off the prescription and some guy jumps in front of me. He says something and he takes my place in line and then they close for lunch right before my turn to pick up my medicine because HE WAS THE DEVIL. And I just saw this kind of white rage. But the left side of my face is stuffed full with cotton to try to control the drool and blood and leaking needle mishaps and slowly the tingly feeling is coming back and pangs of physical pain are shooting through my face. And I start to yell at this guy but mostly I’m grunting and drooling. I’m like the Godfather in Wal-Mart. So, if you ever see me on one of those people who shop at Wal-Mart sites just know it was that one time.

Now I have 1/2 an hour, pain coming to me, and a blinding white rage that no aggressive shopping cart pushing can cure. So, I rush out to my car. I sit in the passenger seat and dial Carolyn. She picks up. Because she always picks up. And if she doesn’t pick up she calls right back. “Talk me in off the ledge!” And I go on a 20 minute drooling, sloppy, Godfather grunting rampage. A slurping diatribe. At some point I wanted to pull my gauze out and throw it in his face. I wanted to punch him. I was telling her all of this, not exactly with concise articulation.

Suddenly, a pause. I’m breathing. Panting. Drooling into gauze. Sideways.Carolyn says, “Deb, don’t give him your power. He’s not worth it.” I say, “okay”. Then she goes on, “I mean sure it would feel great to punch him in the face and he probably would think differently about the next woman he tried to bully, but then you’d end up in jail and how would produce your plays?” “Right. Right. Okay.”

How would I be here without Carolyn? I wouldn’t. She is a master Resurrectionist of formerly unknown woman. It’s been a delight to produce 13 of your works.

So, with extreme pride it is my great honor and privilege to award the very first  Venus Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award for setting flight to the voices of women to my Sister-In-Art. The incomparable, Carolyn Gage!

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